Careful Examination of Anti-Zionist Arguments Sheds Light on Movement

With all the controversy over Anti-Zionism Week, I felt a strong desire to abuse my status as a Guardian senior staff writer and completely tear apart the Anti-Zionism Week arguments. I wanted to prove anti-Zionism to be the anti-Semitic travesty that the Union of Jewish Students purports it to be. As an Israeli Jew, I didn’t see a difference between Zionism and Judaism, and Anti-Zionism Week seemed to be an event completely fueled by hatred — hatred of Jews, my people. I was astounded that my A.S. funds were going toward something so atrocious.

As an opinion writer, I could have simply written an opinionated piece based on my own assumptions without doing any research at all, and I did. I wrote an eloquently designed article reiterating everything that you could read at the UJS booth on library walk. I even quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. But when Anti-Zionism Week was postponed, for whatever reason, I chose to do some research into the topics of Zionism and anti-Zionism.

All of a sudden the controversy over Anti-Zionism Week took on a different nature … and so did this article. I am not going to trash Anti-Zionism Week as an anti-Semitic event, to the dismay of many Jewish students and the pleasure of many Muslim students.

Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. It is a religiously motivated political movement against a religiously motivated political movement. Though many anti-Zionist proponents may be anti-Semitic, the foundation of the movement is not.

As with most controversies, the heart of this one lies in a fundamental misunderstanding. In this case it is two differing interpretations of what anti-Zionism means. According to UCSD Muslim Cultural Club President Eahab Ibrahim, “”Anti-Zionism seeks to return the people of Palestine (Palestinian or otherwise) to the dignity that they had before the Zionists had taken over.”” If you ask UCSD UJS President Wade Strauss, Anti-Zionism Week is “”equivalent to having Anti-Semitism or Anti-Jew Week.””

To find the basis of this misunderstanding, I had to define Zionism. Prior to 1948, Zionism was defined as a desire amongst Jews for a return to the Jewish homeland in Palestine. Its roots can be traced back as far the sixth century B.C., when Jews were exiled from Palestine to Babylon.

More recently, in the late 1800s, Theodor Herzl brought Zionism to the limelight in response to various Russian and European “”pogroms,”” or massacres of Jews. After the establishment of Israel, Zionism changed into a movement aimed at maintaining Israel’s status as a Jewish state, as well as making it possible for Jews all over the world to be welcome in their homeland.

Anti-Zionism is more difficult to define concretely. Anti-Zionist sentiments have been around since before the Jews were exiled to Babylon and have seen a resurgence in popularity since 1948. Even before Israel was established, there was a strong anti-Zionist push to prevent Jews from attaining Israel as their own independent state. Modern anti-Zionism is thought of as a political movement seeking the return of Israel to its previous owners. Anti-Zionism is not particular to any religion, but it has a predominantly Muslim following due to the fact that Israel is located on land that was mostly inhabited by Muslims before 1948.

Some argue that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism; let me dissuade those beliefs. Anti-Zionism calls for an end to Zionist activities, which may be considered racist against Arabs and the return of refugee Palestinians to their homeland, not the removal of Jews from their homeland.

In the United States, we often pride ourselves on our separation of church and state. Israel may be the Jewish homeland, but that is not an excuse to give Arabs and non-Jews second-rate citizenship. Israeli Arabs are boycotting the upcoming Israeli election in order to make the statement that their vote means nothing. Having a Jewish homeland means a place to go where I can feel safe and at home among Jews, not a place where I want my non-Jewish friends to feel ostracized.

I am not anti-Zionist. Zionists were essential in founding and building Israel, and I applaud that. But in more recent history, Zionism has played a role in creating a major schism in the Jewish population of Israel, and has been a stone around the neck for the peace process.

When Yigal Amir killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin in 1995, many people could not believe it was a Jew that killed him. Not only is Amir a religious Jew who cited Jewish law as his reason for killing Rabin, he has been associated with many right-wing activities, activities that could be considered Zionist. Amir is an extremist, and I cannot say his views are expressed by all Zionists, but I will go so far as to say that many right-wing Israelis share similar, less militant views about the peace process.

The faction between Zionists in Israel and those more willing to give land for peace grows continually. This upcoming election only exacerbates the problem. With the recent Palestinian uprising, many Israelis are losing faith in the possibility of a real peace treaty.

This lack of faith has made Ariel Sharon, a right-wing Israeli, this election’s front-runner. Ironically, many consider Sharon the cause of this recent uprising. I would consider Sharon a Zionist. Zionists in Israel are generally those who are against land-for-peace treaties, especially when parts of Jerusalem are involved. Extreme Zionists are against any land-for-peace treaty, and in some cases against the whole peace process.

Despite the rhetoric Sharon has spouted during the election, I firmly believe that once elected, he will revert to his historically right-wing views on the peace process. I fear that with Sharon as prime minister, years of effort toward peace will culminate in a war.

I would never say Zionism is bad. Without it there wouldn’t be a Jewish homeland. But I don’t believe that any Arab should have been removed from his homeland to make room for a Jewish homeland. The decision to split Palestine into Israel and Palestine has been the cause of many deaths, and in this situation, I believe no one is right. Jews have lived in Israel for centuries, since before the time of Christ. But so have Muslims and other Arabs, and there is nothing that makes the Jewish claim to Israel more persuasive than the Palestinian claim.

Muslims and Jews alike cite religious documents as proof of their claim to the Holy Land. I cannot accept those proofs; I live in the present. I would prefer it if Israel’s current status were examined. Anti-Zionism Week is intended to raise students’ awareness of the Palestinian/Muslim struggle for a homeland, much as Zionists must have done to help bring about the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence. There is nothing wrong with raising awareness, as long as it is not blatantly motivated by hate and does not perpetuate lies in order to sound sanctimonious.

Take me, for example: Had this week not occurred, I would have never even considered the Muslim/Palestinian argument. I would have assumed it was completely anti-Semitic and brushed it aside. Instead I have learned a great deal about the Palestinians’ fight to regain their homeland in Palestine, because I looked beyond the rhetoric and found out the facts.

I conclude by saying I am still pro-Israel but also pro-peace, and pro-land-for-peace. This isn’t just about an exchange of land for a halt in terrorism. Giving land back would be an acknowledgment of the former Palestinian homeland. If Jews deserve a homeland, so do the Palestinians, whose families have been there for centuries.

Before I resign from this topic, I have one final message to the Muslim Cultural Club: The biggest problem with Anti-Zionism Week is its title. Why not “”Pro-Palestine Week,”” or something more positive, instead of an attack on a fundamental Jewish principle?